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An effective therapy for insomnia

While many of us have difficulty dropping off occasionally, especially when going through stressful life events or due to the recent heatwaves here in the UK, this sleep disturbance can remain in the long term, becoming insomnia. Insomnia is described as having difficulty initiating and/or maintaining sleep, or experiencing non-restorative sleep, on at least three nights per week for at least three months, despite having adequate opportunity to sleep. Insomnia also has negative impacts on our daytime functioning – this may be through elevated fatigue and sleepiness levels, poor concentration, low mood, or impaired ability to carry out our responsibilities – which may be social, occupational or care-giving.

Those who experience insomnia usually develop coping strategies to try and increase the amount of sleep they obtain each night, but these activities can be counter productive, actually maintaining insomnia in the long term. These strategies that can actually help to maintain insomnia are:

  • Spending extra time in bed to try and obtain more sleep – this means that actually, you simply spend more time lying in bed awake, reducing the association that your bed is a place of peace and sleep
  • Distracting a ‘racing mind’ by watching TV, playing video games or using our tablets and phones – this makes us more alert
  • Avoiding social activities in the evening out of fear of reducing sleep – this can increase social isolation, and builds more anxiety around sleep
  • Napping during the afternoon – does increase the amount of sleep we get, but reduces the pressure to sleep at night, making it less likely we will be able to fall asleep when we want to

Sleeping pills are not recommended for long term use.

So what is an insomnia sufferer to do? Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for Insomnia (CBT-I) has been proven to be a very effective treatment for insomnia, which tackles the causes that lie behind insomnia, and help us to reassociate time in bed with restful sleep, not frustration and staying awake.

A recent study, outlined in this article demonstrated that participants fell asleep on average between 9 and 30 minutes earlier after completing their course of CBT-T – that’s potentially an extra 3 and a half extra hours of sleep a week!

CBT-I should only be performed by qualified professionals – in the UK, your GP may be able to refer to you a local practitioner.